In a bid to save money, Putnam County will be switching to a self-insured health insurance plan for most county employees in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
By switching to self-insured health care insurance, the county initially expects to save over $300,000 during fiscal year 2019-2020. Officials hope those savings will carry over to subsequent years, County Administrator Terry Suggs said.
Under a self-insured plan, an entity such as a business or government pays for the cost of health care for insured employees out of its own assets rather than paying an insurance underwriter to cover that risk, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.
The changes will affect most county employees, including constitutional offices, but Putnam County School District employees are not affected by the change, Suggs said.
“We are attempting to reduce the cost of insurance for Board of County Commissioners employees by looking for every opportunity possible to save money,” he said.
The county plans to use a reinsurance plan to mitigate against two of the most significant risks of a self-insured plan: a catastrophic employee illness or accident that requires a substantial cash outlay that could wipe out reserves.
The reinsurance plan would step in if the county were faced with a catastrophic employee illness, Suggs said.
Officials hope savings will accrue, allowing the county to build up reserves in the program that could ultimately stabilize premium costs and possibly reduce them. Such a goal could take years to reach, however, Suggs said.
County Commissioner Jeff Rawls said the move was a positive one for taxpayers and county employees.
“It’s important to iterate to the public that this will be a cost savings to the public and it will also be a cost savings to employees,” Rawls said.
As reserves are built up over time, Rawls said, the health insurance premiums paid by employees, which have been going up, should stabilize. They could even decrease in the future, he said.
County officials have been looking to make the switch to a self-insured health plan for a long time, Larry Harvey of the Board of Commissioners said.
“We weren’t ready for the reserves, but through the hard work of our staff and county commissioners raising our reserves up, we’re now able to do that,” Harvey said. “We all fuss about government being slow, but I think it was probably the best way to go.”
Suggs said employees from various county offices were invited to take part in the process and said the only noticeable change for employees at first would be a different insurance card.
Clerk of Courts Tim Smith was named co-chairman of the insurance committee and said even though the work was difficult, he thought the county made the correct decision.
“This gives us an opportunity to do better work for our employees, to offer them more opportunity for better health,” Smith said. “That, in turn, gives us healthier employees, which means we do better work for the public.”